By Rajan Hoole –
The 1990s: The Culture of Untruth and a Perilous Vacuum – Part 9
More than a decade after the JVP insurgency the country remains trapped in the logic of terror. Instead of evolving means to surmount it, the tendency in activist circles has been to dissemble and play games with it. When terror is part of our environment, ordinary and average people often take on roles they never dreamed of. The causes may be alienation from the ruling class, a feeling of inferiority, desire for revenge, being already compromised or simply, misplaced nationalist sympathy. Being aligned with the party of terror makes them feel bigger, powerful and able to taunt and threaten others. Often they do this using the cover and privileges of civil society, while advancing its destruction.
In turn, this leads to an inescapable logic of counter-terror. Others feeling angry and threatened by those playing the terror game, are drawn into using terror in response or simply using state structures that would do the job. This is a reality. Few living in the North or the South could say truthfully that they did not feel this way sometime. The result is an ugly and heart- rending catastrophe for the society as a whole. This happened throughout the country. The task of human rights activism is to rise above the logic of terror and challenge it rather than become part of it.
Paradoxically, the notion of ‘political correctness’ advanced by left-liberal sections in the West has frequently the effect of fortifying terror rather than challenging it. In a case like Sri Lanka, they could easily identify the evil of state repression and the resulting alienation. This leads them to a lenient view of a group like the LTTE. They refuse to see that such groups, while using this sympathy to challenge the State, do in fact stand for an order that is exceedingly more inhumane and archaic than what obtained. Although very vocal in their anti-racism, the arrogance of some of these left- liberal sections is more insidious than racism paraded openly.
These sections believe in effect that a Third World minority like the Tamils are so savage that a group like the Tigers are their natural ‘sole representatives’. They refuse to see that there are Tamils taking huge risks and often paying with their life to resist these cruel impositions on their people. Their fate, simply justified as the penalty of ‘traitors’, is allowed to pass in silence. In effect, what these left-liberal sections achieve by legitimising groups like the LTTE, is to crush the latent liberating potential in these societies. Consequently, those who feel angry about what a group like the LTTE is doing to their people are not given a helping hand from any quarter. Given the political vacuum created by terror in their own society, they slowly find themselves becoming part of an apparatus of counter-terror. It is of no use condemning such individuals in isolation.
By contrast, conservative sections in the West who oppose groups that use terror, for narrow reasons the left-liberals would frown at, provide much needed relief for political and human rights activists under threat from groups like the LTTE. There is therefore a need to complement the notion of ‘Human Rights’ with the notions of ‘Human Dignity’ and ‘Crime Against Humanity’, which too need to be thoughtfully articulated.
From 1988, a long line of individuals became victim to counter-terror of some kind. Among them are Liyannarachchi, Sivanandasundaram, Richard de Zoysa, more recently Nimalrajan (see Sect.23.3.3) and perhaps Kumar Ponnambalam (see Sect.21.1.6). Sivanandasundaram was an elderly man, who in 1988 made speeches in Jaffna praising the LTTE and calling its opponents traitors, while the latter were being targetted by the LTTE (our Report No.1). Such persons are victims, but not martyrs. They did not challenge the rationale for terror, but reinforced it. When hundreds of youths disappeared in Jaffna in 1996 after being taken by the Army, the people were comparatively indifferent. The civilians wanted a break from the LTTE and the majority of the disappearances resulted from information provided by civilians, something unthinkable ten years earlier. All these killings elicited public rituals from some while many others were silent. In general, the people were confused about what to make of them. Unfortunately, we are still in the stage of rituals, instead of challenging the logic of terror.
The reasons for these rituals are varied. They may be to advance a narrow political or personal agenda. Too often, it is because the ubiquity of terror has broken down healthier human obligations and loyalties, and the sense of honour by which they are sustained. A good example is the leading Tamil political party, the TULF. Nearly a dozen of its leading members have been killed, all of them by the LTTE. The latest was the murder of Batticaloa MP Soundaranayagam. The LTTE’s involvement soon became common knowledge locally. The TULF neither challenged it nor uttered even a word. However, on the heels of it in early 2001, the TULF hierarchy campaigned vocally against Britain listing the LTTE a terrorist group, as though it would break their heart!
Although the UNP brought terror into the political life of this country, after the ritual indignation it earned in the early 1990s, it now seems to stand vindicated. The reasons are not far to seek. On the 10th anniversary of Ranjan Wijeratne’s murder, C.A. Chandraprema wrote (Island 14.3.2001): “From the beginning we leftwing activists liked the way Ranjan responded towards the JVP. Those days, we in the left movement had no power to protect ourselves and as a result we were completely at the ‘mercy’ of the government. If the government took a tough stand towards the JVP, then that afforded the left movement some protection. What most people forget is that the JVP started hunting down and killing their opponents within the left movement before they went after UNP politicians.”
Victor Ivan, the editor of Ravaya, wrote in the Sunday Times (4.3.2001): “However at that time everyone was out of their minds and were acting as if they were possessed by demons. They might have thought that if they were to survive, they have to kill the enemy before the enemy would kill them. Although in the prevailing conditions it was not possible to identify the enemy clearly, there was a habit of assassinating anybody who was a suspect.”
Both these are statements from the broad Left on the logic of counter-terror. Some who lived through the helplessness of that era have gone to the Right and have no problem with that logic. But those who disagree with it as something that destroys cherished human values, need to be more sensitive in dealing with the dilemmas of our time. When Liyannarachchi was killed, those in the left camp were silent, while the SLFP and the Bar Association put on a ritual that lacked credibility. It exonerated the JVP’s terror while making the other side merely indignant at the hypocrisy. It failed to challenge the logic of terror and counter-terror.
Sadly, many sections in the South who felt the sting of the JVP’s terror against the Left are playing at rituals to legitimise the LTTE’s terror. While being almost silent on killings by the LTTE, their indignation is reserved for violations by groups that live in fear of the LTTE, as they once feared the JVP. This way, they will make no impact on arresting the culture of terror and would instead perpetuate it. They remain at the level of those whom they criticise and love to hate. This confusion in the Left goes back a long time. By mid-1987, the JVP had become totally anathema to the Left. Yet, some leaders of the NSSP, for example, advocated to friends in Jaffna that they should work with the LTTE, which they felt was challenging Government and doing something ‘positive’! The LTTE’s murder of the NSSP’s Jaffna leader Mr. Annamalai in January 1989 does not appear to have dispelled the confusion.
In the South, counter-terror won at heavy cost to the social fabric. In the North-East where the legitimacy of the State is in question, counter- terror has worked to the LTTE’s credit, the balance of terror remaining on its side. In order to come out of this, activists will have to go deeper into the phenomenon and expose the social dynamics and human tragedy surrounding each incident of terror and challenge those who inflicted it. The State should especially be challenged to stick to the letter and spirit of the Law. State terror is inseparable from the worst forms of criminality and there is little hope when such terror is used as an outlet for the anger of those in power against a helpless individual.
To be continued..